Monday, September 15, 2008

Death Row Fish Food?

Helena (installation detail)

You may remember Marco Evaristti from his exhibit in 2000 that involved blenders and living goldfish. That specific exhibit allowed the public to switch the blenders on in what Evaristti described as a project exploring the theme of “beauty’s transience” and the “fine line between existence and nothingness“. The installation, titled Helena, was repeated in 2006 for the exhibition titled Destroyed Worlds and the Utopia of Reconstruction. The installations attracted press and stirred an emotive response from the public-- a warranted outrage for what many observed as brutality. In fact, during one opening activists destroyed the work. Evaristti is at it again-- only this time he plans to feed a deceased human to hundreds of goldfish in a large aquarium.

Evaristti has been involved with an ongoing project, titled Five2Twelve, based on the visits he has had with death row inmate Gene Hathorn-- a man convicted of murdering his step-brother, step-mother, and father. Hathorn, better known as death row inmate # 0008000 by the United States legal system, is serving his sentence at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. The artist has stated that the death penalty is an “American nightmare” and has worked alongside Hathorn and other collaborators in order to reveal that death row inmates are more than just a number-- more than just dangerous criminals.

Hathorn is due for execution and has stated that he wants to donate his body to Evaristti for one final collaborative effort if he is unable to gain a stay of execution. The artist has stated that the installation involving Hathorn’s body will be titled MEAL and that it will involve a large aquarium filled with goldfish and the freeze dried remains of Hathorn-- which apparently will be grounded into fish food sized flakes by a company that has agreed to do the process in private.

An excerpt from Evaristti’s journal-- which is documented on his website-- reads, “After my day with Gene, I thought about my visit to the cemetery on the morning of my first visit and now I knew a person who would end up there. How Bizarre and meaningless. He was an individual, not a number. I got an idea. We could do more than getting his poems and drawings out of this isolated and closed place. We could do something that would really open the eyes of the public to the atrocity of the death penalty. He could donate his dead body, once executed, to me in order for me to preserve it and make it into fish food. The fish food should then be part of an installation consisting of a huge aquarium, the can of fish food and an invitation for people to feed the fish.”
In my opinion, Evaristti’s message is one that can easily be debated-- especially by family and friends of victims. Hathorn killed three members of his family. In that sense, I’m not certain that MEAL will have the meaning that Evaristti is striving for. I sent an email to Evaristti's website email address thinking that he would allow me to conduct an interview with him. I thought it would be a good way for Evaristti to spread the word about his project and to inform people about certain aspects of the project-- including details about Hathorn that would allow him to be seen as more than just a death row inmate. Unfortunately, there has been no response. The lack of response has caused me to question Evaristti's intentions as far as MEAL is concerned. For example, does he really want to draw attention to the fate of Hathorn? Or is he simply exploiting the situation that Hathorn has found himself in? In life Hathorn is currently just a number and in death he will just be millions of flakes fed to goldfish… and I think that sums up the message that most people will take from Evaristti’s MEAL-- if it happens.

Gurney, guilded bronze, silk, leather, 2008

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Take care, stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Anonymous said...

Well, I think that really is disgusting, lets just hope them poor fish don't develop a taste for human flesh.

It certainly is controversial and I doubt that it will have any long lasting effect on the public with concern to the death penalty.

Anonymous said...

It proves nothing. No body will get the point. The artist should have used worms instead of fish. Most People don't think that deeply so they will just be disgusted and not get it.

Anonymous said...

Uh, gotta message for ariste boy. We are ALL going to end up in that cemetary. We all gonna die, get over yourself. It what you do with the opportunites that lie before you that define who an individual is. His quality, his worth to mankind. His is to make fishfood from a human. Enough said.

Anonymous said...

This is a good example of contemporary art at its worst: a complete fiasco. The pseudo-political overtones make it even more annoying to me. And yet more than anything else, despite the abhorrent nature of Evaristti’s projects, the only thoughts or feelings his ‘ideas’ elicit within me is complete, absolute and final boredom the depth of which I have never before felt.

I wonder how long Evaristti sat around thinking about the fake meaning he ascribed to putting goldfish in a blender. He obviously was originally intending to only provide one sensation: shock. He probably didn’t respond to Brian’s email because he was not interested in the possibility of being told that he is a fraud, which he is. I would say that to his face.